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For so long now our sector has been inundated with new research, theories, concepts, pedagogies and approaches to learning and development, in addition to being bogged down by guidance, legislation and adaptations as a result of the pandemic and the return to the ‘new normal’.

Sadly, it appears that with all of this clouding the minds of so many leaders, managers and practitioners alike, we have suddenly lost the spontaneity, flexibility and the simplicity in our approach to play, learning and development.

It is all too easy as practitioners to get caught up in the day to day, the planning, tidying, observation, assessment that we often forget why we went into early years, why we do the job we do, and the beauty of the everyday when you care for young children.

As a sector, we are and have always been guilty of over-complicating and over-thinking our practice, our environments, our planning and our pedagogy when in reality, all children need to thrive, learn and develop effectively is engaging, supportive and knowledgeable, loving adults and the simple act of play.

Whilst theories, concepts and pedagogies have changed and developed over-time in the early years sector, there is one thing that remains steadfast when it comes to young children and their overall learning and development, and that is child development and the attached theories and science.

Children, their brains and their psychological and physiological growth still follows the same patterns, science and external factors still have the same impact as they did 20 years ago, and so whilst we busy ourselves trying to understand new concepts, jargon, legislation and theories, we are missing the very simple fact that the way in which children’s brains develop has not changed and this should be our focus when providing learning and play opportunities and experiences in our settings.

Play has always been, and will continue to be a child’s primary purpose and focus during their early years education and beyond, and as knowledgeable adults we must always prioritise play over everything else.

New theories, concepts and pedagogies are wonderful and essential to the development of our own practice, settings and our professional development and the environments and opportunities we provide, but we must not allow this to consume our every day and allow ourselves to lose sight of what we know to be key components of a child’s learning and development journey.

Child development theories and information that we have all been bought up on, studied and subsequently ingested as a result of our own learning and professional development journey were based upon science, fact and evolutionary and ecological theories and learning, the basics of brain development and the way in which children learn and develop and so much of this was based on play and simple, yet meaningful interactions.

As parents, practitioners and educators we can over-complicate in our own minds what we think children need in order to learn and thrive in their development, but in actual fact they just need attuned adults, a safe and engaging environment, endless opportunities to play, and knowledgeable others in which to learn from.

We can create the most wonderful role-play set-ups, the most attractive and Pinterest- worthy tuff spot creations, and practice mindfulness and yoga with the children every day to benefit their mental health, but will this be suitable for all children? Will they all engage and thrive as a result of these opportunities? It’s unlikely.

If we critically reflect on our practice and the opportunities we think we need to provide as a result of our pedagogy, the provision we have, and the needs and interests of the children we care for, we may see that perhaps the opportunities we think we need to provide are as a result of our own mindset and the overwhelm of theories, pedagogies and new concepts.

As practitioners we must critically reflect in this way on our own practice as well as the provision, policies and ethos of our settings too as these are pivotal to children’s early learning experiences and subsequent development and challenge practice or policies that do not place the children’s best interests at the forefront.

If we strip back child development, early education experiences and early learning, we take it right back to adults getting down and getting involved with children’s play, being silly and engaging in their role-play and games when invited, curiously exploring the outdoor world and learning via first-hand, hands-on experiences about the world around us, co-operative play with peers that lay the foundations of social skills and social development thereafter, children learning independence through using tools to forage for ingredients in the wild, taking these back and using a range of tools and developing skills to work with a knowledgeable adult to create food for the setting/cohort to share as a community and the invaluable life-skills that communal mealtimes provide and facilitate.

Something as simple as snuggling up in the book corner and sharing a book with a loved and trusted adult is an incredibly beneficial activity for many children, especially those who need their emotional needs met and to feel safe and secure at various points in their day.

Why have we begun to overlook or overcomplicate children’s early years in this way?

If we stripped back our practice and our approach to learning and development, followed the children’s needs and interests more flexibly, stopped over-thinking provision and planning, then perhaps not only would we fall back in love with the beauty and simplicity of early years education and everything it encompasses, but our children will continue to thrive, learn, develop and hone essential life-skills as a result whilst simultaneously reducing the workload, stress and overwhelm that is currently impacting significantly on practitioners, their mental health and their well-being in our sector currently.

About the author:

Chloe Webster is an OFSTED Outstanding childminder at Pebbles Childcare, Worthing West Sussex. With over 10 years experience in the sector, Chloe has written for a number of Early Years magazines and journals.

Chloe works for Bridgit Brown at Pebbles Childcare and together they were awarded Nursery World’s ‘Childminding Business of The Year’ in 2018 and pride themselves on their child-led, natural, outdoor pedagogy and are advocates of the home-based childcare profession and work tirelessly to champion HBC across the sector.

chloelouisewebster@hotmail.com 

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